Michigan State’s “brutal” hoops schedule is not really that brutal after all

Yesterday’s USA Today included a story titled “Spartans hope brutal schedule gets them ready for primetime,” which began:

One of the hallmarks of Tom Izzo’s coaching career at Michigan State has been to embrace a rugged non-conference schedule…

Izzo is at it again this season. Michigan State will play 10 games against teams that reached last year’s tournament, including defending national champion Kansas and this season’s probable No. 1, North Carolina. The Spartans will also play Texas and could meet Georgetown, Tennessee and Gonzaga.

“I just never want to be on Dick Vitale’s ‘cream puff’ scheduling list,” Izzo joked. “But many years ago we took on the ‘any time, any where’ theory of playing people and it’s kind of stayed with me.”

Izzo is not a masochist. He believes MSU can not only survive this schedule, but flourish against it.

Now, I like Tom Izzo.  He seems to be one of the very few bigtime college basketball coaches who may actually be a nice guy.  And Michigan State’s non-conference schedule does have some tough teams on it, as mentioned in the article.  However, when I saw that headline, I immediately did a double-take, because I was well aware that on that same non-conference schedule is a game in East Lansing against one of the toughest teams of all…The Citadel.

For the uninformed, The Citadel did not make the NCAA tournament last season.  No, the Bulldogs did not win the Southern Conference tournament, and were not deemed worthy of an at-large bid, possibly because of a 6-24 record that included just two wins over Division I opponents.  I quickly checked to see if a McDonald’s All-American had accidentally signed a letter of intent to play for The Citadel this season.  Nope.

Of course, you can have a cupcake or two (The Citadel had an RPI of 334 last season; there were 341 Division I teams) and still have a very difficult schedule.  However, the Spartans are also playing Idaho (last season’s RPI:  299), and Alcorn State (336, an RPI worse than The Citadel’s!), both at home, and have a road game against IPFW (RPI of 218).  The Spartans also have a game at Oakland (which I suspect might be a “home away from home” situation) and a home game against Bradley, which should be decent but not that big a test for MSU.

The rest of the non-conference schedule, admittedly, is impressive.  Michigan State plays Maryland in the first round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, a tournament that features several other teams that should be good this season, including Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Georgetown.  However, the article suggests Michigan State “could meet Georgetown, Tennessee and Gonzaga” when that’s not the case; the Spartans could only face two of them at most.  Michigan State plays Texas in Houston, and the Spartans also drew North Carolina in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge (a game that will be played in Detroit) .  MSU concludes its non-conference slate with a home game against defending national champion Kansas.

Michigan State will play twelve non-conference games.  Five are against teams it should defeat easily, and a sixth (Bradley) is a home game against a middle-of-the-pack mid-major.  The other six games include only one matchup (Texas) in which Michigan State will be the road team, and even that game is not on the opponent’s home court.  Michigan State will play three games on a neutral site in Orlando, with the first of those coming against Maryland, a team that is projected to finish seventh in the ACC.  North Carolina is favored by many to win the national title, but last year’s champs, Kansas, lost seven of the nine players that made up its rotation.  I’m sure the Jayhawks will have plenty of talent replacing those players, but the Spartans will have the opportunity of playing them at home and in early January, before those players have had a chance to mesh with each other.  Considering Michigan State won 27 games last season and has three starters returning (along with most of its regular rotation), I think the advantage lies with the Spartans.

That’s a fair schedule, and not one deserving of any criticism.  It strikes me as balanced.  I like the fact that Izzo is going on the road (at least the Ft. Wayne trip is a true road game; as I said, I’m not sure about that game in Oakland) against smaller schools.  The UNC, Texas, and Kansas games should be a lot of fun, and the tournament in Orlando should be excellent — I’m looking forward to watching it.  The Spartans will be well-prepared by the time the Big 10 season rolls around.

It’s not a brutal non-conference schedule, though.

You want to see a brutal non-conference schedule?  Just take a gander at what Fang Mitchell has put together for his squad this season (and seemingly every season).  Coppin State’s coach has set up a slate with nine road games and three neutral-site games in Hawaii:  at Purdue, at Kansas, at Richmond, at Loyola (MD), at Dayton, at Wisconsin, at Syracuse, the Rainbow Classic (Colorado is the first-round opponent), at Oklahoma, and at Missouri.  Coppin State actually mixes in a road conference game in there, so the Eagles will play thirteen games before their first home contest on January 10.

Now, that’s a brutal non-conference schedule.

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